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LITERARY/ HISTORICAL INFORMATION
Sense and Sensibility was first written in 1795 in the epistolary (letter) form as Elinor and Marianne. However, it was set aside when Jane Austen began writing her first novel, First Impressions, which was published sixteen years later as Pride and Prejudice. In 1797, she rewrote Elinor and Marianne in narrative form, but it was not published until 1811 in a revised version and under a different title, Sense and Sensibility.
Jane Austen followed the eighteenth-century pattern of moralistic fiction by giving her novel the antithetical title of Sense and Sensibility. The antithesis is used to confront stereotypes and illustrate moral points. The novel's two heroines, Elinor and Marianne, represent the qualities of sense and sensibility, respectively.
Jane Austen, born to a clergyman and being the sister of one, "was especially qualified to deal with that branch of mankind." Thus many of her novels have characters who belong to the clergy. In Sense and Sensibility, too, Edward Ferrars chooses to become a clergyman and attains a position at the church at Delaford.
Jane Austen supported the aristocracy and believed in the conservative values of the English upper-middle class. Her heroines in Sense and Sensibility belong to such a class, and her heroes are either titled landowners or clergymen. Both Elinor and Marianne are cultured and educated. They spend their time usefully, in reading, singing, dancing or socializing. They do spend time with the men of their choice, but they believe in preserving their chastity. However, the men of the novel are excused for indulging in vices, like flirting and playing with a girl's virtue. Willoughby is thus excused for his blunder, and Colonel Brandon is treated with respect even though there is a rumor of his having an illegitimate daughter.
The novel throws light on early nineteenth-century class divisions. Most of the genteel families lived in the houses which their forefathers had built. John Dashwood, along with his family, moves into the Norland Estate soon after the death of his father, regardless of the presence of his stepmother and his three sisters in the house. He also displays a "craving to augment family wealth, power, and prestige" by marrying Fanny, the daughter of the wealthy Mrs. Ferrars. He keeps acquiring wealth, but consistently refrains from helping his sisters.
Jane Austen's world features parents who want to see their daughters get married to wealthy and respectable bachelors. Thus, when a refined young man shows interest in their daughters, they hope for the best. Mrs. Dashwood is happy that Edward and Willoughby are inclined towards Elinor and Marianne, respectively. Furthermore, in Austen's England, parents often gave their daughters the liberty to choose their own partners. Austen, like many other writers of her time, gave precedence to sense over sensibility. Elinor is lauded for possessing the qualities of sense and prudence, while Marianne is dubbed as romantic and imprudent because she is chiefly motivated by her sensibility.
Sense and Sensibility was written by Jane Austen when she was still a young woman. The novel is not as brilliantly polished as Pride and Prejudice or Emma. Jane Austen's views about some of her characters seem judgmental, and her plot at times appears complex, as it deals with the life of two heroines. However, using subtle humor and irony, Jane Austen created amusing situations and characters that lighten the otherwise gloomy atmosphere of the novel.